Monthly Archives: November 2015

11-29-15 A LETTER OF THANKS

“A LETTER OF THANKS”

1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13

 

I have a container on my dresser at home that holds letters I’ve received; it is oval and is faux leather. I’ve had it for many years. In it I can return to memories: memories of nice things people have said; memories of news they shared; memories of special people; memories of notes I don’t want to discard. This last week I gave thanks for them.  I save letters.  All the letters Mary Ann wrote to me when we were dating I’ve saved in shoeboxes. Back in those days, we couldn’t text each other, and to call meant a long distance charge would be added to the phone bill of the one calling. We would call each other about once a week and talk for 30 t0 45 minutes. Long distance phone bills added up! It was a different world. These days, for special words, I still write letters instead of emails. My handwriting is poor but more people would like, I believe, a handwritten note, rather than a text or an email that is momentary and then gone.  It costs money to send it; I buy note cards or notepaper and envelopes; and I pay 49 cents for a stamp to send it. It is worth it to me. Sometimes the personal touch gets left out of our world. As we go into the Christmas season I like getting and receiving Christmas cards, even though many let Facebook do their talking. The season of Thanksgiving that we have just experienced, and the seasons of Advent and Christmas that we face, are ones where we pay attention to writings; not just letters, but stories, and Scripture.  It is a rich time of the year. This week I received an Advent Devotional Book from Columbia Seminary. They wanted money too, of course. I also got one from the magazine, “Presbyterians Today.” I will pull out our old devotional booklets and Christmas stories from under our stairs at home, and prepare to read and re-read many of them to get the flavor and spirit of this season pumping through my emotional blood again. Especially against the backdrop of the evening news, “we need a little Christmas, right this very minute” to quote a familiar song.

 

In Paul’s day a letter was extraordinarily expensive, but it was the only way to send thoughts or instructions. Letter’s would be written on materials like papyrus, rolled up, and sent to someone else by messenger. No postal service in those days! And that’s what we have before us today: a thank you letter from Paul.

 

Listen to the verses before our text today: Paul writes: “Now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought the good news of your faith and love, and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you—for this reason, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith….” Paul, on behalf of Timothy and Silas, did not always have as good an experience, or as positive a connection with other young churches, as they had with the Thessalonians. So he doesn’t keep it to himself; he lets them know; he thanks them. Hear his words in verse 9: “What thanksgiving can we render to God for you, for all the joy which we feel for your sake?”  How do you thank God? Do you set aside time to offer prayers of thanks? How do you thank others who have blessed your life? Maybe a letter is a good idea. A verbal “thank you” dissipates shortly after it is said; a written word of thanks takes time and effort on the part of the grateful one. At Christmas when I was young, one of my “chores” was being told I must write thank you notes to the people (other than immediate family) who gave me gifts. If I protested, the TV would stay off until I made a “dent” in my list! These days I keep my list voluntarily, looking forward to writing to the people who thought enough of me to send a gift.

 

Sometimes when we write to people we offer words of commendation or encouragement too. Listen to Paul wish the Thessalonians well: “May the Lord help you increase your love and abound in love to one another and to others.” Its Paul’s hope for them; an encouragement.  How hungry people are for words like that! How often people go through life with some holes in their soul, holes that can be filled with a kind word offered, a blessing extended, or a genuine word of thanks!  Teachers have told me that all that they put up with to teach is worth it when they get a note from a student who has grown up to say “You have changed my life.” I shouldn’t have been amazed when we had the memorial service here for our long time choir director, Judson Rogers, that young adults from Indiana, and Virginia, and other states hopped on planes on short notice or drove their cars to be here to pay their respects. “Mr. Rogers changed my life,” one said. Another said, “I became a music teacher because of him.” Judson was a high school chorus teacher as well as a church musician. I wish, and I hope, that he knew of their complimentary words before he died; that would have lifted up his heart. A letter would have done nicely.

 

So as we begin the Advent season, the world again badly needs its Savior. Ages before Jesus’ birth, prophets who listened to God said a new day was coming and changes were on the way. We pray for that now; we need that now in our fighting and broken world. But what can we do? There is little we can do with the situations brought into our minds from TVs or the Internet except grow frightened, mad, or anxious. Those are things we cannot change, aside from our prayers. But there are things we can change. Who knows when a friend, or teacher or loved one will die unexpectedly, on a highway, in a building, through a physical ailment, or because of their age?  A letter like Paul sent, carefully worded and filled with praise or thanks, can change a person’s outlook on life.  We could use a different outlook in our world today!  Why not work on changing the world, one letter at a time? It’s not the biggest thing one can do, but it’s one thing.

 

One final thought: two of my favorite letters I have saved are from women of stature I’d admired during their life. But macular degeneration made their eyesight fail. Still, I have a note from each of them, sharing kind words with me. Their formerly beautiful penmanship runs downhill on the note. Letters are squeezed in as words went closer to the edge of the paper than they realized. But of all my letters, these are two I treasure.  I thank God for special people who have lifted me up, when I especially needed to be lifted. May someone do that to you too, as you lift up someone else.  Let’s turn our eyes upon Jesus in this upcoming holy and joyous season.

 

Let us pray:

O Lord God: just a word of thanks; just a word of adoration and appreciation: isn’t that what you hope to receive from us? This season we want you to hear from us. After all, you’ve given us the greatest gift of all at Christmas; perhaps our gift to you can be our prayer and our devotion; and lives lived differently. We can start now. So we say, “thank you;” we adore and appreciate you! Love to you from your grateful children.  Amen.

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                November 29th, 2015

11-22-15 THANKSGIVING YEAR B

In our passage for Thanksgiving today, Christ tells us not to worry.

 

But look at the world. How can we not worry? There are wars and recessions and foreclosures and job losses. We hear about natural disasters and terrorist attacks. We worry about healthcare and government options. We worry about the conflicts throughout the world. We worry about the conflicts at home. We worry about how we can afford Christmas with belts tightening everywhere. We worry about whether everything will go smoothly with the holiday this week, whether relatives will get along or the turkey will come out okay. There seems to be a lot to worry about.

 

Passages like this one are hard for me. I’m a natural worrier you see. In fact, I am a grand champion worrier. I can worry about things that have already happened, things that might happen. Things that could absolutely never happen and things that have already happened to someone else. I am never worried that I will lack things to worry about.

 

And here comes Jesus telling me not to worry. Really Jesus? It’s not that simple. I can’t just turn my worries off like flipping a switch. Right now I am worried about the head cold I had last week finally leaving my system. I’m worried that the back tire of my car seems to be leaking air for no reason. I worry about our Siberian Husky’s epilepsy. And I worry if I got the stitch count right in the last row of the sweater I’m knitting. As I list these worries here it is easy to see how minor they really are. Just imagine how tied up in knots I would be if I really had something serious to worry about!

 

And yet Jesus says “Do not worry.” He says not to worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will take care of itself. Given the state of the world, it sure seems like tomorrow will be more news of financial disasters and fighting. How can we not worry?

 

Now, worry is not to be confused with thinking and planning to meet future needs. Worry is not to be confused with genuine concern. Rather, worry is the preoccupation of our mental and physical powers with things that are future, hypothetical, or beyond our control. Worry sees only the obstacles (actual or imaginary) and meditates on all the possible disastrous possibilities, and isn’t concerned with doing anything.

 

We are unique on the planet in that we are the only creatures that worry about possibilities. All other animals worry only about immediacy. Is there something for me to eat now? Is there something that is trying to eat me now? Humanity on the other hand worries about all these things as well as things that only might happen. The maybes. The possibilities. The things we have no control over. What good does that do? What good is it to worry about something that may happen or not? Does it make it more likely or less likely to happen? Does worrying prevent the bad?

 

Of course not. In many cases it can actually keep us from being prepared for whatever does happen. “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” Far from adding to our lives, worrying can shorten it! It can give us ulcers and weaken our hearts. Worry definitely keeps us from enjoying the good of the moment. By focusing on possible dangers, troubles and disasters we miss the good of our lives. By worrying about the financial dangers of tomorrow, we miss the security of a good meal and a warm bed. By worrying about the latest case of flu going around, we miss the joys of fresh air and a cool breeze.

 

The trouble with worrying is that it distracts us. It takes us away from the moment that we find ourselves in. Even my small worries get in the way of my living in the moment God has prepared for me. They take away from my fully experiencing and appreciating what is right in front of me.

 

It’s easy to see why we shouldn’t worry, but the question remains: How do we stop worrying?

 

There is an old example of a speaker holding up an empty glass. He asks, “How can I get the air out of this glass?” He turns it over. The air obviously doesn’t pour out. The air stays in the glass. He shakes the glass up and down, and the air stays in it. Finally, he turns the glass right-side-up. He gets a pitcher of water and pours the water into the glass. The water forces the air out of the glass. We push worry out by replacing it with something else. There are two things I think do the best job of pushing out worry. The first is gratitude.

 

Gratitude does not come easily, especially when we are caught in the grip of anxiety. Nor does gratitude come in a sudden conversion. It comes through a slow turning away from worry by intentionally stopping to find something, anything, for which to thank God. In the midst of worry, it can be a real stretch. Jesus understood this. Take something simple and common, Jesus says, for which to give thanks: a bird, a flower, a blade of grass. Anything will do: a breath of air, a dog’s loyalty, a glass of water. It is the small step of moving out of self to notice something or someone beyond the self that matters.

 

I think much of our worries is directly related to the fear of something lacking—time, money, confidence, security. We worry because we fear something might be missing in our lives. So, instead, practice giving thanks. When I give thanks, I am affirming that something valuable is present in my life. So by giving thanks I am reaffirming the good in my life and not worrying so much about the rest.

 

There is always something to be grateful for, even if it doesn’t seem like it. There was a Scottish minister named Alexander Whyte who was known for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member thought to himself, “Certainly the preacher won’t think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this.” Much to his surprise, however, Whyte began by praying, “We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this.”

 

As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, take time to look around and be thankful for what you do have. When you find yourself worrying about one thing or another, stop and try instead to come up with five things you have to be grateful to God for. See if that might help lighten your worries.

 

Now I’m not saying that we should ignore problems. or surround ourselves with only happy thoughts and things and ignore the fact that there are people starving down the street. There is bad in the world, and ignoring it doesn’t do any good than worrying about it does. Instead, the other thing we can do to push out worries is to take action. Worrying about what we can’t control does nothing. In fact, worrying about what we can control does nothing. What is makes a difference is doing something. Instead of worrying, we can act to make a difference no matter how small.

 

For instance, instead of worrying about that leaky tire, I can take it in to get checked. Instead of worrying about my health, I can make sure I get plenty of rest and time to recover. I can actually take the time to count the stitches in my sweater, rather than just worrying if they are right. And if I can’t do anything about the problem, that means I’m worrying about something outside of my control in the first place. In those cases, I can go and do something for someone else. I can’t do anything about my husky’s epilepsy, but I can volunteer at shelters to help make life better for other dogs.

 

Yes, bad things happen in the world. There will be senseless acts of violence and times of hardship. Worry won’t prevent any of those things or lessen the blow of the bad that happens. But doing something in the world can help. Doing what God would have you do, gives you something to focus on rather than your worries.

 

As Jesus said, at the end of the day God will provide for us. And I hold my trust in God.

 

Trusting in God, doesn’t mean that doesn’t mean that God will make sure my leaky tire is magically fixed. No, it means that I know that God has given me the tools in my life to take care of the problems that do crop up. It’s another way of picking up my head and looking at those lilies of the field. When I pay attention to what I have experienced my whole life long I learn again the same lesson. Worrying just drags me down and away from what I should be doing: trusting that God has provided me with what I need to take care of today.

 

Let us pray: Lord, help us to let go of the worries we cling to so hard. Show us all that we have to be grateful for instead. Lead us to taking action for others and ourselves when it feels like worry is all we have. Help us to put our trust in you and not worry about tomorrow. In your name we pray, Amen.

 

11-15-15 BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS

BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS

Hebrews 10: 12-25

Blood is something that not everyone likes to think about. Our son, Chris, for example, in Elementary School had to go to the nurse when, for Career Day, someone’s paramedic father described the work he did at trauma scenes. When Chris was in Middle School a discussion about AIDS made him feel faint.  In college his roommate, another member of our church-Josh Dack-was in the hospital with a collapsed lung. He was in for several days but Chris would not visit him. Chris’ friends chided him saying he wasn’t being a supportive roommate, but Chris’ struggled to think about that visit. Since I was Josh’s pastor, Mary Ann and I drove to Gainesville to visit him in the hospital. Chris reluctantly agreed to join us. He made it into Josh’s room, but when he saw the tube coming out of his chest, he dropped to the floor and crawled out on all fours!  Blood is something that not everyone likes to think about. And yet we honored Veterans last Wednesday, perhaps with meals, or words or thanks, or flag ceremonies. But those who served in war can picture the blood that was shed for our freedom. Few want to think about that.  Some war movies are shot in black and white to minimize the sight of blood in living color. Other movies, like Schindler’s List and Psycho, were shot in black and white largely because the directors believed the bloody scenes would be too vivid and horrifying in color.

 

So I’ve almost stopped talking about blood for now! But we face the facts that our freedom was paid with the blood of Americans, and our soul was paid for by the blood of Christ.  In the hands of Pontius Pilate Jesus bled from beatings; in the hands of Roman soldiers, he bled from being nailed to a cross. As the old hymn declared: “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!” The church; our souls; everything was bought with a price; a sacrificial price.

 

Hebrews chapter 10 outlines the sacrifice that Christ made for the sins of the world. The writer calls what Jesus gave “an offering.” What an offering! And it says we can enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus. Our way is paid; the price is covered; our sins are not an impediment. Now, in Jesus’ name, we are not giving our time, talents, or treasures to be saved; Jesus paid the price for that. What we do now, instead, is pay to help spread the Good News of the Gospel with our music, with His message, and with our mission! We are called to do all those things well, as it was said that Christ did “all things well” according to Mark, chapter 7.

 

In our nation I would like to believe that we make Veterans proud with the way we treasure and live out our freedoms. But many days I wonder. There is so much turmoil in our nation! By the same token I would hope that Jesus would be pleased with the way we are spreading the gospel.  Sometimes we fail; but today, here are some people saying they are pleased and grateful.

 

Mark Geallis, Executive Director of Halifax Urban Ministries, which we support writes:

Let me share the story of one family, John, his wife Kat and their beautiful 9-year-old daughter.  Both parents were hard working and enjoying a good middle class life. John was a truck driver for 30 years and Kat always worked a part time job. Then John was diagnosed with cancer and was unable to work. Kat lost a good part time job to be at John’s bedside as he underwent chemo and radiation treatments while hospitalized. Soon their housing situation began to unravel, so Kat found a part time at a local campground in exchange for a lot to rent where they lived for a month before moving into the HUM Family Shelter. We helped them by providing food and a safe place to live while offering case management to connect the family to other resources, plus gave them spiritual & emotional support. After several months, John was in remission from the cancer and Kat went back to work as a night auditor. HUM was able to help find a grant to provide the family with a good used vehicle, pay several month’s rent, and make utility deposits so they could get back on their feet in their own place. Even with all of their troubles, John, Kat and their precious little daughter were always smiling and kept a positive attitude. This is the real picture of the homeless today with most being women and children. This is just one of dozens of families that your donations have helped recover from homelessness.

 

Listen also to this testimony from one of our Friends of Francis ministries, called “Solutions By-The-Sea.” Director Brock Weaver wrote to us saying:

 

Everyone at Solutions would like to wholeheartedly thank you for all that you have done for us. You have helped many men make it to and from work and also back and forth to meetings with the bikes you freely gave to our clients. Also you have made it easier for them to sleep at night with the sheets and pillows you gave to us. All of the new clients here have also benefited from the bus passes you donated. Also among all of those things you have done, you have greatly helped the staff and owner by alleviating some of our expenses which is also a great help. So we just want to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts for everything that you have done. Words can’t express our gratitude.

 

Westminster keeps trying to change lives; but in reality, you are changing lives with your money, with your prayers, and with your other gifts!  Jesus is pleased when you, along with others, make a difference in another person’s life. Though confidentiality forbids my from being explicit, our support of our Presbyterian Counseling Center has also helped many broken persons, addicted persons, and families in conflict to find hope and peace again. We are saved by the blood of Jesus. But we spread the Good News to thank him.

 

Our gifts to our denomination support three missionaries for whom we pray every week, and it supports countless ministries. Here is but one example: The Office of Public Witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA) applauded First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, Alabama for helping poor workers from getting caught up in going to a place called “EZ Money and Kwick Kash,” a storefront operation that entices people to quickly and easily get a loan for $500 to pay for a medical or a housing crisis. People feel like a crisis is averted as they walk out with easy cash but the crisis is barely starting. In two weeks those people will owe the business $587.50 for the loan; and if they can’t pay it back, they take out another loan to pay for the first one, while interest rates skyrocket to as high as 456 percent according to Cary Estes in the September/October issue of the Presbyterian Outlook. [pp. 51-52] The church began giving education and reasonable assistance to pull people in their community out of the spiral of debt. The church helped do that because people cared and gave, in Jesus’ name! And let’s not forget another example of how your support helps us change lives for the better: our own youth and sponsors joined Cara Gee this past summer on a mission trip to Birmingham, Alabama. In her own words, Cara said:

This summer, our youth worked with several groups in Birmingham. They worked with children’s groups in several areas, playing with kids and showing them caring. They helped serve at the Lovelady Center, a program to help homeless and addicted women with job training and breaking out of old cycles. And they helped feed people at a shelter called the Foundry. Finally, they worked at the Christian Service Mission, helping to build community gardens and creating a retreat center for working moms.

 

 

Our country can thank those who bled in battle by supporting them in their disability, their illness, and their retirement. And we can honor them by working to make our country better and better. That is a tall order. But our church will honor Jesus in a different way. Jesus has gone to be seated at the right hand of his Father! He is alive and well! Now the church has become the eyes, and hands, and heart of Christ in the world. We do what Jesus would do. Today our tithes, offerings, and pledges will underwrite and support our missionaries locally and internationally. Our talent sheet will say to Jesus: “Here are things I can do for you through my church. Here am I Lord, send me!” So your offerings and pledges help children; they help youth, they help adults; and they help older adults. They enable us to have inspirational music and a place to worship; also a place to learn, and to pray that is conducive to both. Even our children have special pledge cards today so they can do their part!

 

Our nation’s freedoms cost many people dearly by their sacrifices. Our human salvation has been made possible by our beloved Lord Jesus Christ. There is no price we need to pay for salvation or for Heaven. But we have a lifetime of thanks to show! Jesus asks disciples to feed his sheep and tend his lambs. He says he has some sheep that are not part of this fold. So he watches us; and he hopes, that not out of coercion; or out of assessment; or out of taxation; but out of free will we will chose him, and choose to carry out his work. Please join us in helping others.

May God bless you and keep you.

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                November 15, 2015

 

 

 

 

11-08-15 LIVING A CONSECRATED LIFE

LIVING A CONSECRATED LIFE

Mark 12: 38-44

In the old fable about a hen and a pig, we find them walking down a road together. “Hey,” the hen says, “I have a great idea! What if you and I opened a breakfast restaurant! You know how popular they are! I could provide lots and lots of eggs, says the hen.  What do you think of the idea?” To which the pig stopped in the road, looked down at his belly, and replied, “No! Eggs would be just a donation to you! But for me, bacon would be a colossal sacrifice!”  That fable is often told to describe how committed one is to a project.  Others use different analogies like: “Do you want to be in the game, or just on the sidelines!” When I attended a business meeting at the beautiful Hyatt and Cici Brown Art Museum in town this week, the Curator told us that his goal was to turn visitors into members, members into donors, and donors into legacy gift givers. People give their time, talents, and treasure to things in which they believe. Many such people are sitting here today. You have dedicated your life, or part of your life, to a particular cause or focus.

Some here are dedicated to their alma mater, giving much money and involvement in the sporting or class events of your school.  Some are dedicated to music in our community, working with our local symphony, a vocal group, or an instrumental group, attending concerts and writing checks. Others of you are passionate about an area of health ministry; perhaps you contribute generously to the Cancer Society because someone you loved died of cancer. Some give generously to the Heart Association, or to animal rescue groups. Perhaps you give your time each week or month helping to feed Daytona Beach’s hungry and poor population. Then there are some, and I understand this, who devote much time and money to their kids or grandchildren.  Many people have a passion or a cause.  As you might surmise, I am passionate about Jesus Christ. My life is dedicated to him.  I believe in God, in the work of our church, and in the work of our missionaries around the world.  So how do I show my dedication to Jesus?  First, even though I am employed as Pastor of Westminster By-The-Sea, I give back generously, both with money and with time. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am President of the Board of our Presbyterian Counseling Center again this year, pouring my money and many hours into making good counseling available to as many people as possible.  I am on conference calls as a member of the national Presbyterian Health Network of which I am a member, contributing time, sermons, and advice. I have just agreed to serve on the Nominating Committee of Central Florida Presbytery for a second time. And I sing in our choir because I am dedicated to the highest quality music we can offer to the glory of God.  There are other people and things to which I am dedicated as well.  But there is a word that acknowledges not just an outward display of actions, but also an inward fire for some purpose.  The word is “consecration.”  It generally is used to describe “holy” purposes, people, or gifts being exceptionally dedicated back to God. That is the act of consecration.  But at the center of a consecrated life is a change of life, or, more accurately, a change of heart.  Contemporary Christian Singer Steven Curtis Chapman sings these words in his song called “The Change:”

 

Well I got myself a T-shirt that says what I believe

I’ve got letters on my bracelet to serve as my ID

I got the necklace and the key chain

And almost everything a good Christian needs, yeah

 

I got the little bible magnets on my refrigerator door

And a welcome mat to bless you before you walk across my floor

I got a Jesus bumper sticker and the outline of a fish stuck on my car

And even though this stuff’s all well and good, yeah

I cannot help but ask myself

 

What about the change?

What about the difference?

What about the grace?

What about forgiveness?

What about a life that’s showing?

I’m undergoing the change, yeah

I’m undergoing the change

 

I’ve undergone the change. It happened in college when I gave my life to Jesus Christ; and later when I trained for and entered the ministry. It took a change of heart; a change of having myself in the driver’s seat and putting Jesus there, asking with countless situations, “What would Jesus do?” It involved a decision, as every change of heart does. As an old Christian Hymn puts it:

  • I have decided to follow Jesus;
    • No turning back, no turning back.
    • Though I may wonder, I still will follow;
    • No turning back, no turning back.
    • The world behind me, the cross before me;
    • No turning back, no turning back.
    • Though none go with me, still I will follow;
    • No turning back, no turning back.
    • Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
    • No turning back, no turning back.

 

Taking an old joke and fitting it for the occasion,
“How many pastoral counselors does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Answer: only one. But the light bulb has to want to be changed.”

 

Many of you here today live a consecrated life. You may not be pastors, but you are God-lovers; church supporters, ones who know Jesus as your Lord.

Our Session members live such a life, giving their time and gifts to serving God and helping their church. Greeters, ushers, choir members, paper folders, mailing crews, maintenance crews, teachers. Each of you gives your time and talents to the church. You probably give financially too since the areas where you spend time and show passion get your support. Good for you! Today I am suggesting that somewhere in your past, at a Billy Graham Crusade, or in a youth camp, or in a church service, or in a quiet moment somewhere, you gave your life to Christ. It means today that when you look at your calendar of activities, many of them involve church. It means today when you look at your checkbook or bank statements, many checks are for Christian gifts. It means that you pray; and you praise, and you grow. It is more than being a seeker or a bystander; it is saying to Jesus “I am all in. You can count on me.”  You are living a consecrated life.

 

Such a life is not outside the reach of others. It involves a change of heart, a decision, and then outward signs that the inward graces of God are at work in you. I have watched it happen so many times.  This church has it’s foundation as Jesus Christ her Lord, but on that foundation are people, who decided, at one time or another, to say to Jesus in so many words: “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee.” That hymn names things that the consecrated person will give and give up, to follow Jesus. It is a powerful message.

 

In Mark’s gospel today, I believe we see an example of a consecrated life and Jesus knows it.  It is not the scribe; a scribe was a legal professional who advised religious leaders about existing laws and they also good give legal guidance to lay people with very high fees. They were well compensated and admired by many for the lives they led. But Jesus does not single scribes out in his observance of people putting money in the Temple treasury. Instead he singles out a woman who silently drops two copper coins, widow’s mites as they have come to be known, into the kettle or container. Dr. Pheme Perkins, Professor of New Testament at Boston College, describes the action with these words:

“The contrast between [the woman’s] offering and all the others who are tossing in what they can spare, exhibits the false values of a society that does not really offer sacrifice to God.” [The New Interpreter’s Bible, Abingdon Press, Volume VIII, p. 683.]

Jesus’ words are not a blessing on poverty or a condemnation of the wealthy. They are a commentary on what we do with what has been given to us.  It is the difference between a consecrated life and everything else.

 

Sometimes we have our “aha” times after years of being a church member when a light bulb goes off if in your head and you say, “My Lord and my church need me!” And then you sign up to serve in the ranks of church volunteers; you decide to give money more generously and joyously than you did before. But mostly it is that “heart light” that goes on, that says, “Jesus, I have realized that at the end of my life, whenever that may be, knowing you, and you knowing me, will be the greatest comfort for my soul. I have decided to show you what I am made of now, with more love and more gratitude.”  Like a teenager who is at odds with the way he was raised—who when he marries and has children all of a sudden appreciates and is grateful for his parents and his upbringing—sometimes it takes years to appreciate the teachings of Christ, and the parenthood guidance of God. Today might be that day for you! Those who choose to give out of gratitude gain great peace well before they meet their Maker.

 

Today, again, Jesus’ observation is no condemnation of wealth or admiration of poverty. His observation is about choices that lead to a consecrated life.  I use “consecrated” rather than a similar word  “dedicated.” Sometimes babies or buildings are dedicated to God without a decision for Christ made in one’s soul. Today I am describing that choice and the actions that follow it.  Sometimes choices such as these are met with fear. “If I give more of my time or my means, what will I give up? Can I give up some things to gain the Kingdom of God?” Those are questions only you can answer. I can only say that I have, and I have not regretted it. And others have told me they have, and they’ve never had such peace in their heart.  Make your choices about life; make your choices about Jesus. Consider choices that will honor your Lord.

 

Let us pray, using the words from Frances Ridley Havergal:

If you are willing, pray each line after me:

“Take my will and make it thine,

it shall be no longer mine.

Take my heart, it is thine own,

It shall be thy royal throne,

It shall be thy royal throne.”

Amen.

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                          November 8, 2015

 

 

 

11-01-15 FOR ALL THE SAINTS

FOR ALL THE SAINTS

Revelation 21: 1-6a

 

In all of Christian theology, the church is the bride of Christ. The church is a “she.” And one day the bridegroom—Christ—will return for his bride as happened in 1st century Jewish wedding traditions. Christians have taken the tradition that Jesus knew and lived, and have put images in our hymns and stories to reflect our faith. For example, In Samuel John Stone’s great hymn “The Church’s One foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord,” his fourth verse whisks us to this special day. He writes:

Yet she on earth has union with God, the Three in One;

And mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won:

O happy ones and holy! Lord give us grace that we,

Like them, the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with Thee.

Mystic sweet communion. We believe in that. We say so whenever affirm the Apostles’ Creed. I believe in the communion of saints. Do you know what you are saying when you affirm that? You are saying that on a day like this, and even on other days, that Christians never lose their connection with brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone before them. A mother or a father; a grandmother or a grandfather; an aunt or an uncle; a cousin; a friend; a husband or wife; a brother or sister; or even a child; the bonds of love and care overrule the division between life and death. For those whom you have loved, they have new life beyond their death. And as our music so far suggests, and as the prophesy from Isaiah describes, they join a meal of joyful celebration about their victory; about their peace; and the love that now fills their hearts! Those who have gone before us are praising God; the Bible tells us so; they are singing to God, the Bible tells us; they are not just walking around on clouds in long robes with their hands folded in prayer! Some are laughing; some are dancing, and all are serving! They care about and are connected with you! So even as the second half of our service will be more reflective musically, the first half says boldly and confidently “Welcome to the feast of the Lord! The feast of sweet communion!”  This is a family reunion: of those on earth who have chosen to be here, and those “above,” as we like to put it, who are also pulling themselves up to the table, one filled with rich foods as Isaiah predicts. As he says in Isaiah 25:8- “God will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces ….”  That assurance is repeated to John, by Jesus, in his Revelation. Revelation 21:4- “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning (grief) nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”  If you are still stuck in grief over the death of a loved one, that does not honor God who loves you and longs for you to believe in Holy Mercy, and in Amazing Grace. Nor does it honor the one who has died who is now in paradise. Their life has gone on; they want your life to go on too! Being frozen in a time with the tapes running in your head that constantly ask: “Why?” or say “If only,” keeps your ears from hearing God’s guidance or the good guidance of others. Those who have gone before you in the faith are just fine! And they have mystic sweet communion with you! God says to you: “Lift up your heart! Believe that I love you! Live your life! I have welcomed the one you miss!” Remember your loved one in pictures and stories, but move ahead with your life, connecting with others who care about you and love you! And know your reunion will be grand!

 

Today, picture the persons who have gone before you in Christian faith, but don’t pine for them.  Their new world is wonderful and our world is broken! Seek to remember the vision that Jesus gave John: that there is a holy city that is prepared as a bride is adorned for her husband! Jesus never hurries us to heaven; even in his life on earth, he spent every breath he had serving others out of Godly love. We too, are to love and serve others until that Day, which no one is sure of the hour.

 

Finally, a word about saints. The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church through the ages have names saints with a capital “S,” persons who met certain criteria for the title. So today or in your next life, you might love to meet and speak with Mary, the mother of Jesus; or with St. Peter; perhaps you want to speak with St. Francis of Assisi or with Catherine of Sienna. Fine. They are Saints. But Protestants call people saints with a lower case “s,” using this definition: “Saints are people who sought to honor God with their lives and who followed Jesus as Lord.” Saints are not sinless; they are forgiven sinners, like you and me. So our communion of saints connects us with flawed persons who still strived toward a life that might have earned them the title of “disciple.” May we always be disciples of, and learners after, the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Now, prepare to eat with those sitting near you, and with those who have gone before you! They have all been invited! And they are excited to be in your presence, for they are always, now, in the presence of our Lord!

He will be the host of our meal.

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                          November 1, 2015